Last season’s 12-13 record caused dissatisfaction for Pitt-Johnstown men’s basketball coach Bob Rukavina, especially after the Mountain Cats posted 19 wins a year earlier.

But in order to put the disappointment of last season behind them, the Mount-ain Cats will have to find replacements for their two-top scorers, Paul Byer and Carlos Cogsdell.

Byer, a Conemaugh Township graduate, averaged 14.8 points per game last season while Cogsdell scored 12.5 ppg. Byer and Cogsdell – now a student assistant coach with UPJ – each averaged 5.9 rebounds a contest.

“We’re talking about two 1,000-point scorers,” said Rukavina, who is in his 17th season. “Two guys that are in the top 15 (at UPJ) in rebounding. They’re going to be hard to replace.”

Add a season-ending leg injury to senior guard Dwight Hines, the team’s leading scorer among returnees, and the Mountain Cats are further shorthanded. Hines averaged 13.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists a game last season.

That means only two starters return for UPJ when the Mount-ain Cats open the season at Bloomsburg at 7:30 tonight.

“It’s a road game and a tough place to play,” Rukavina said. “If we can pull out a win in our first game, it would be a big plus for us.”

Last season, the Mountain Cats defeated the Huskies twice, once on the road 83-75, and then 82-58 at the UPJ Sports Center.

“Last year, those guys (Byer and Cogsdell) led us in scoring almost every game,” Rukavina said. “Every year you have to replace someone. This year the scoring is going to be spread out a lot more. We’re going to be playing a lot of guys. Scoring, it’s going to come from someone different every night.”

Steve Scorpion and Joey Tutchstone, will be relied on to provide some of that offensive punch.

Scorpion, a 6-foot, 175-pound senior guard with 19 starts, averaged 10.2 ppg last season. Tutchstone, a 6-3, 200-pound, two-year starting senior guard, scored 7.8 ppg and dished out 5.4 assists per game, good enough for 25th in the nation at season’s end. Tutchstone started all 25 games last season.

Other returnees include sophomore Chris Gilliam, a 6-7 forward, who should provide a strong inside presence. Gilliam averaged 6.4 points and 3.2 rebounds last season.

Nick Mezyk (Westmont Hilltop) should help the Cats offensively with his deft outside game. Mezyk (6-2, 185), a senior guard who saw action in 22 games, scored 5.7 ppg last season.

Scorpion and Mezyk return as two of the East Region’s top 3-point shooters.

“We know what we’re going to get out of those guys,” Rukavina said. “They’ve been very consistent.”

Also back after missing last year is junior point guard J.J. Schumacher (6-3, 205).

The Mountain Cats finished last season as the nation’s 28th best team in 3-point shooting at 39.3 percent, and were 50th in field goal percentage at 47.5.

Handicapping the Cats’ return to a winning form will be that only five players have experience playing at a collegiate level on a roster that includes five redshirt freshmen.

Quinton Davis (6-3, 175), Kyle Goldcamp (6-9, 210), Matt Ionadi (6-3, 195), William Sharpe (5-10, 160) and Marcus Tullis (6-6, 185) should all see playing time, with Tullis getting the start. Sharpe and Tullis each starred at Greater Johnstown.

“We’re just counting on a lot of young guys,” Rukavina said. “This is the youngest team I’ve ever had. A lot depends on the five redshirt freshmen. A lot depends on those guys, how they develop.”

Rukavina’s best years with the Cats were during a span from 1996 to 1999, when UPJ put up three straight 20-win seasons followed by 19 victories during the 1999-2000 campaign. Rukavina is 238-189 overall for a .557 win percentage at UPJ.

The Mountain Cats have had only one winning season in the past five years.

“I think we’re going to be a better defensive team than we were last year,” Rukavina said. “We’re going to get after some people, do some pressing. We’re going to full-court press more than we probably have in 10 years.”

Friday and Saturday, the Mountain Cats host the UPJ Tip-off Classic.

UPJ faces West Liberty State (W. Va.) on Friday and plays the University of District of Columbia on Saturday.

“We always look forward to those games,” Rukavina said. “We usually play pretty well.”

Besides hosting a tournament, UPJ has 13 home dates in its independent schedule. That includes a stretch of seven out of eight games in February at the Sports Center.

Assisting Rukavina are Jamie Harless, in his first season at UPJ after coaching at California (Pa.), and George Sulkosky, in his third year.



Samuel Legg can be reached at 532-5080 or slegg@tribdem.com.

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